Do some of the employees you represent need to improve their English? If so, please read on- we need your help.

Do some of the employees you represent need to improve their English? If so, please read on- we need your help.

Language support for workers

About the author: Jenny Roden

Jenny has over thirty years of experience in the field of ESOL as a teacher, manager, teacher trainer and materials writer. She has designed a number of bespoke ESOL courses for employers in a wide range of sectors such as finance and business, catering, bus driving, food production and healthcare.

She is currently working as a freelance consultant and is co-chair of NATECLA, an independent charity representing ESOL professionals in the UK.

One of the most successful courses that I ever set up, during a long career as an ESOL manager, was a 10 week course for a local confectionery manufacturer.

The employer wanted to address the need for some of its shop floor workers (all Gujerati-speaking and female) to have a better understanding of the food hygiene and health and safety regulations. The course that I designed was based on these regulations, with English embedded into it.

It was so popular with both employer and employees that a second course was run so that everyone who needed it could attend.

Why was it successful? Because it was a win/win situation for everyone involved. However, to achieve this, there had to be commitment from both sides.

The employer:

  • paid for a tailor-made course and a teacher to deliver it.
  • released employees during work hours to attend.
  • allocated the boardroom as a venue.
  • provided any materials that were required.

In return the employees guaranteed to attend the course and do homework.

Although the commitment could be said to be greater for the employer, the outcomes had the potential to lead to better safety and productivity, and a lower staff turnover. They were:

  • an increased understanding of regulations amongst employees whose mother tongue was not English.
  • a tangible demonstration to inspectors that the company was addressing barriers to understanding the regulations.
  • Improvement in the communication skills of employees- which benefited both parties.
  • Increased goodwill amongst all employees, not only those who had attended the course.

Several women were motivated to continue ESOL classes in their spare time, after the course had finished. For some, it was their first opportunity for study since leaving school. 

This is one model for supporting employees with ESOL needs. But there are many others, not all involving financial outlay.

For instance, employers may: 

  • fund an employee to attend a class in a local college. 
  • release an employee to attend a class during work hours.
  • offer facilities for a work-based self-study group
  • join with a neighbouring employer to fund a joint class.
  • encourage colleagues to support each other in their language learning at work 
  • arrange development opportunities for staff (managers/supervisors and/or non-supervisory staff) to learn how to support language learning at work 
  • facilitate the use of learning materials at work (possibly buying in sets of available or customised materials for use by employees and their managers and providing computers so that employees can access virtual learning.
  • incorporate ESOL into  programmes of occupational  programmes of learning and CPD.

What can you do?

Unionlearn has joined with NATECLA to produce a handbook for employers to make the case for why they should support employees with ESOL needs and outline ways in which they could do it.

We would like you to:

  • help us write the handbook by giving us case studies of good practice that is already taking place.
  • pass on the handbook to employers and make the case verbally to them for why they should support  ESOL in their workplace.
  • help the employers to set up ESOL support and report back on outcomes to unionlearn.

For a short on-line module on ESOL in the workplace, and for more information go to interactive module for union reps or Language Support for Workers eNote and look at the case studies.

Any further queries contact me, Jenny Roden at nateclachairs@gmail.com or kkekki@tuc.org.uk at unionlearn.

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